Surviving 30 Days of Literary Madness
Getting Through NaNoWriMo with Your Sanity and Sense of Humor (Hopefully) Intact
In November, writers around the world throw sanity to the winds and challenge themselves to write 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), sweating and stressing for 30 days. Surviving 30 Days of Literary Madness is a daybook of support, encouragement and the occasional kick in the pants to help make the stress more bearable and keep your eyes focused on your goal.
For each day of this mad sprint, there is a quote and essay designed to help keep you going at the keyboard, along with other pieces about preparation and the novelling hangover that comes in December. There are also pages for those other moments, the ones when you’ve fallen slightly behind – or you realize this may not be a year you cross the finish line. No matter how your November novel experience is going, this book will be a companion for each day.
What is this NaNoWriMo Thing, Anyway?
In 2002, I was in a writing slump. I had a string of finished manuscripts and was acquiring a nice little pile of encouraging rejections from editors, but I’d hit a point where I felt burned out, too involved with considering what editors wanted and the state of the business rather than the actual writing.
Then an on-line friend happened to mention this thing called National Novel Writing Month that was happening in the San Francisco Bay area. There’d been 5,000 folks signed up the year before and 700 reported crossing the finish line with 50,000 words in just thirty days. My friend was considering signing up and asked if anyone else in our circle was interested. I thought about it and finally decided it was a good idea because, well, I was hoping I’d get the creativity moving again.
I crashed and burned big time, getting nowhere near 50,000 words. Part of it was the writing muscles not being warm, part of it was the chaos of an auto accident my husband and I were in two-thirds of the way through the month (we were fine; the car was not). But despite all of that, taking part did one very important thing: the words started flowing again. I haven’t missed a November since.
National Novel Writing Month, usually shortened to NaNoWriMo, was a crazy experiment begun by Chris Baty in July 1999 with a small group to write the novels they’d been talking about getting to “someday.” In 2000, the event, which grew from 21 to 140 participants, was moved to November to “take advantage of the miserable weather.” And the growing continued.
In 2015, over 400,000 writers from around the globe participated in what is described as “thirty days of literary abandon,” writing over 17 million words — and that’s just the folks who filled out a profile and novel information and logged their word count.
The challenge is to write 50,000 words within the month of November, not starting before midnight on November 1 and finishing before 11:59 PM on November 30. This requires an average of 1,667 words per day, a rate that can be challenging, but achievable. You are to start a new story and write like the wind, not stopping for revisions or editing, but just letting the words flow onto the page. There are no rules as to genre, just that you write and not wait for “someday.”
It’s a roller coaster ride and not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve found it a way to challenge yourself as a writer, and the discipline can have long term effects on your ability to draft more quickly.
What This Book is About
There is no “right” way to do NaNoWriMo, which is one of its appeals. There are, however, any number of wrong ways to do it. When I say “wrong,” I’m talking about working yourself into exhaustion, making yourself stressed and frustrated and generally not having a good time. Writing 50,000 words in a month is stressful by its nature; why make it worse?
This is not a book to give you tips and tricks on how to grab the winner goodies. The only guaranteed method I know is to sit your butt in the chair and type an average of 1,667 words a day every day for 30 days. Hopefully more, but never less.
What I do hope to offer is help, support and strategy to make the NaNoWriMo experience more enjoyable, win or lose. I’ve seen far too many folk stress out about crossing the finish line, to the point where they can agitate themselves into a place where they can’t write at all. Trust me; it is not a place you want to be.
It’s easy to say we should love what we’re doing, that writing is supposed to be “fun.” It can be; but it all too often can be a painful slog, an exercise where you’d rather be anywhere but facing that blinking cursor. Those are the times you need a little encouragement (or a whole lot of it) because while it’s fun to have written, the journey there often resembles a bad remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
We’re all about the journey here. Let’s get ready.
There is a section on preparations with some administrative details (signing up for the site, etc.), as well as a few suggestions for getting yourself ready for November 1.
After that, beginning with October 31 and for each day of November, you’ll find a brief quotation and some thoughts to make you smile or help you over some of the bumps that lie along the road. There are other essays as well, focusing on a particular aspect you might encounter. Because Thanksgiving is tied to a day (fourth Thursday in November) and not a date, there is a separate entry for that and the day after you can read as appropriate.
Once November is over, we’ll talk about December, the hangover, and what comes next. At the very end is a brief list of resources I’ve found helpful over the years, both for NaNoWriMo and other writing endeavors.
Rules of the Road
In brief, the “rules” of NaNoWriMo are that you start a new story on November 1, write like a whirlwind, reach 50,000 words or more, validate your word count on or before November 30, and collect your winner goodies. Oh, and have fun.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Not surprisingly, I have a few more suggestions. (It wouldn’t be a book of advice if I didn’t, now would it?)
- Show up at the page. I’m shamelessly stealing this from Julia Cameron and her seminal The Artist’s Way, but it’s one of the best pieces of writing advice I know. Or, as Nora Roberts has put it on a few occasions, “Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard.” In all seriousness, while it seems rather obvious that you should write during National Novel Writing Month, you’d be surprised how easy it is to say, “I’ll write tomorrow.” One day becomes two becomes three becomes four — and suddenly you’re staring down Thanksgiving with just your opening done. Or less. So, unless there is some dire emergency, commit to that daily word count. Tell yourself it’s just for thirty days and you can stop when the month is over.
- Don’t edit what you’ve written. This is a key one. A big component of NaNoWriMo is the forward momentum writing thirty days in a row provides. Don’t look back; that’s what revision is for. That’s for January.
- There are many roads to Oz. I’m going to have plenty of advice in this book, all of which is based on how I write and the process I follow. My process is not your process, so if something I say runs directly counter to what you do, feel free to take what helps and leave the rest behind.
- Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’re a pantser — someone who leaps gleefully into the abyss and writes their story by the seat of their pants — try outlining a little more. If you plot like mad, try writing a story where you dive into the unknown. Write out of order — or in a straight line if you hop from scene to scene. Let yourself experiment to see if there’s something that can help you in your writing process once the month is over.
- It’s not the end of the world as we know it. Yes, commit to the page, but don’t tie yourself in knots so badly that you can’t produce. I’ll talk more about not hitting the mark later on, but remember that every word you write is a word you didn’t have before. Even if you don’t make your goal, there are lessons to be learned — and sometimes the best lessons come from not achieving what we set out to do.
Enough rules. On to the gritty details.